Equity (British trade union)

Equity, formerly officially titled the British Actors' Equity Association, is the trade union for the performing arts and entertainment industries.

Equity (incorporating the Variety Artistes’ Federation)
Founded1930 (1930)
HeadquartersGuild House, Upper St Martin's Lane, London, England, WC2H 9EG
46,000 (2021)[1]
General Secretary
Paul W. Fleming
Lynda Rooke

Formed by a group of West End performers in 1930, the union grew to include performers and stage management nationwide, as well as gaining recognition in audio, film, and television. Equity incorporated the Variety Artistes' Federation in 1967, and now represents most professionals whose work is presented on stage or screen.

As of 2021, it had just over 46,000 members, including actors, singers, dancers, variety artistes and other performers, models, theatre directors, choreographers, designers, and stage management.[2]

Equity requires its members to have unique professional names to avoid confusion with other artists and entertainers.[3]


Equity was created in 1930 by a group of West End performers, including Godfrey Tearle, May Whitty and Ben Webster. They were advised by Robert Young, the "Actors' MP".[4] Like many other British trade unions, Equity operated a closed-shop policy, so it was not possible for someone to join unless they had a record of sufficient paid work and most jobs were reserved for Equity card holders. To allow new members to join, there was a limited number of non-card-holding jobs on regional productions. While working on these productions, actors held a provisional membership card, and could apply for full membership on completing the requisite number of weeks, subsequently allowing them to work in the West End or on film and television.[5]

As a result of reforms of trade unions by Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government and the introduction of European legislation, closed-shop unions became illegal in the UK and Equity discontinued their closed-shop policy in the 1980s. However, to join Equity in the present day, evidence of sufficient paid professional work must still be provided.[6] In 1976, Equity introduced a policy of refusing to sell programmes to the SABC, an action that led to a virtual ban of British television in apartheid-era South Africa, which was not lifted until 1993.[7]

The Clarence Derwent Awards are theatre awards given annually by Equity on Broadway in the U.S. and Equity UK in London's West End.


Image of Guild House.

General Secretaries

  • 1930: Alfred M. Wall[16]
  • 1935: Geoffrey Robinson
  • 1939: C. B. Purdom[8]
  • 1940: Llewellyn Rees[8]
  • 1946: Gordon Sandison[8]
  • 1958: Gerald Croasdell[8]
  • 1973: Peter Plouviez[8]
  • 1991: Ian McGarry[8]
  • 2005: Christine Payne[8][17]
  • 2020: Paul W. Fleming[18]

See also


  1. "Equity: annual returns (PDF format)" (PDF). GOV.UK. 2020.
  2. Equity (Incorporating the Variety Artistes' Federation): annual returns. UK Certification Officer.
  3. "Equity – Equity Name". Equity. Retrieved 2 July 2018.
  4. Cochrane, Claire (2011). Twentieth-Century British Theatre : Industry, Art and Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 78–79. ISBN 9780521464888.
  5. Simkins, Michael (2003). What's My Motivation?. London: Ebury Press. pp. 69–70. ISBN 0091892295.
  6. "How can I join?". Equity. Retrieved 29 June 2013.
  7. Ban on sale of TV shows to South Africa lifted: Anti-apartheid blockade by actors' union dropped following reform of broadcasting, but opposition to touring remains, The Independent, 10 November 1993
  8. "Equity history". Equity. 30 March 2011. Retrieved 29 June 2013.
  9. Smith, Alistair (22 July 2008). "Hamilton elected Equity president". The Stage. London. Retrieved 29 June 2013.
  10. Hemley, Matthew (15 July 2010). "Malcolm Sinclair becomes Equity president". The Stage. London. Retrieved 29 June 2013.
  11. "Malcolm Sinclair re-elected President". Equity. 11 July 2012. Retrieved 29 June 2013.
  12. "Council: Equity Council 2012 – 2014". Equity. Retrieved 29 June 2013.
  13. Hemley, Matthew (1 May 2018). "Actor Maureen Beattie becomes second female president in Equity's history | News". The Stage. Retrieved 7 August 2018.
  14. "Equity – Equity announces first female President since 1946". www.equity.org.uk. 1 May 2018. Retrieved 7 August 2018.
  15. "Equity - Election Results: President, Council, Appeals Committee and Standing Orders Committee for 2022-24". Equity. 8 July 2022. Retrieved 8 July 2022.
  16. "Alfred M. Wall". The Stage. No. 2989. 12 May 1938. p. 1.
  17. "Branch AGM – West of England Variety Branch". Events during March 2013. Equity. 30 March 2013. Retrieved 29 June 2013.
  18. "Equity - Equity elects new General Secretary". www.equity.org.uk. 9 July 2020. Retrieved 16 October 2020.

Further reading

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